During business change initiatives, Change Champions and / or change networks are well established, not controversial, and often of huge value.
Certainly, we’re rarely involved in an initiative without there being Change Champions or equivalent. Despite that we still observe behaviours that can trip Champions up, rendering them ineffective. And it’s not all about recruiting the right people.
First, there’s inadequate engagement or equipping. Champions are recruited casually, receive little in the way of training or toolkits, and feel they’re being ignored. As a result Champion commitment and activity wither before having any impact – with perhaps a few brave souls pushing on, feeling increasingly unsupported. There’s a ‘double whammy’ here. Not only is change endangered by ineffective Champions (not their fault), but influential individuals have experienced first-hand that their organisation cannot be relied on to support its people through change. Others will watch and draw their own conclusions, even if the Champions say nothing.
Second, we’ve seen a belief that if Champions are in place, nothing else need be done. At its worst, we’ve seen major disconnects between committed champions and disengaged operational management; business leaders abdicating their responsibility to drive change; and overloaded champions desperately trying to deliver ongoing day-to-day responsibilities and move the change initiative forward. The results are predictable: burnt-out, disillusioned Champions and change hitting the buffers. The risk here, too, is a reaction that says Champions don’t work, that it’s all about leaders leading.
The lessons seem obvious, but also seem to need restating. If people need to be engaged and equipped for a change journey, how much more do those tasked with guiding them on the journey. And, Champions are simply not an alternative to organisational leaders playing their role – it’s ‘both / and’.
An engaged and well-equipped community of Champions, working in tandem with organisational leadership can be wonderfully powerful. To deploy ill-equipped and un-supported champions, working in isolation, is to hang some of the organisation’s best people out to dry.